South Carolina produced a slew of big bucks from the opening of the Lowcountry season in mid-August through about Halloween, then, wham, nothing. Reports of trophy animals being killed went from a deluge into a trickle.
I'll be interested to talk with Charles Ruth, the SCDNR's big-game biologist, when I see him at next month's Palmetto Sportsman's Classic. The SCDNR's antler-scoring sessions will be taking place around the state in March, and I'll want to ask Ruth if I was just imagining things - or whether hunters I talked with were imagining things - or if something happened that gave us an early breeding peak and then pulled the emergency break on the season.
An opinion I heard voiced by more than one person was that having two full moons in August, the 2nd and 31st, pushed the rut ahead about two weeks. I know how much I love to hunt around a new moon, and according to the deer entered in our monthly Bag-A-Buck contest and information our writing staff got from taxidermists and processors, the period of four or five days before the Oct. 15 new moon was Katie-bar-the-door for big bucks roaming the woods. After that, nada.
I don't know, but do you think the great fishing for speckled trout along the coast, which lasted into mid-December, might have kept a few more hunters out of the woods and saved the lives of a few more bucks?
Reports received by South Carolina Sportsman's sister magazine to the north indicated a similar shift. The peak of the rut in North Carolina is generally in late November, but last fall, if you didn't have a big North Carolina buck on the ground by Thanksgiving - which came a week early last year - things looked pretty bleak. The rut appeared to be a week to 10 days early. The November and December trout fishing was, coincidentally, also great along the North Carolina coast.
What will the spring turkey season, which opens in mid-March, have to offer South Carolina hunters? Last spring's harvest was up a good amount over the previous year, as was to be expected because of decent hatches in 2010 and 2011. Last year's hatch? Eh, marginal at best. But that only means fewer jakes in the woods this spring; the number of gobblers should remain good because those 2010 and 2011 hatchlings will be longbeards the next time anybody breaks out a box call. Typically, a poor hatch doesn't affect the harvest for two years.
So here we are in February. At least sportsmen have a few more options this month than in past years. Hogs and coyotes provide great reasons to keep your rifle out of the gun safe, and there's still small game to be killed, plus, those big female bass are looking for the least little warm weather to start stirring and hitting jigs.
All is not lost.